Thursday 25 December 2014

I wouldn't just wear a shamrock, I'd have one tattooed on to my body

Published 16/03/2014 | 02:30

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It occurred to Mary Kenny that St. Patrick's Day was an ideal day to acquire a tattoo.

For a few years now, I've been drawn to the idea of getting a tattoo. Richard was vehemently against it. There were two conditions he described as "grounds for divorce". One was forgetting to provide bread sauce when cooking a brace of pheasant. The other was a wife with a tattoo.

"Slaggish," he called it. "Low-life."

"Well, I've been a slag in my time," I countered. "And what's wrong with low-life? We're all in the gutter. But some of us are looking at the stars."

Oscar's quip could be a good maxim for a tattoo, come to think of it.

Still, I didn't proceed, not because I don't have a will of my own, but because secretly I was a little nervous about it. I was afraid of the needle. I'd had a botched ear-piercing as a schoolgirl – mainly because I undertook to do the job myself – and developed septic ears. Horrible.

I know more about septicemia now, and the statistics are alarming: 37,000 people died from sepsis in the UK last year, and one of them was our electrician's wife. She was sent to a reputable dental hospital for a wisdom tooth extraction: septicemia occurred and she was dead within four days.

Supposing I had a tattoo – just for the thrill of the experience – and got blood poisoning. But thousands of people get tattoos every week and they're perfectly fine. Except that girls have "I love you forever, Robert" tattooed on their left breast and then they split up from Robert.

Sometimes we take a course of action on impulse, and sometimes we plan ahead, and sometimes it's a mixture of both – the impulsive action has actually been at the back of our minds for a while. We just need the occasion and the opportunity.

And it occurred to me that St Patrick's Day was the ideal opportunity to acquire a tattoo. I wouldn't just wear a shamrock: I'd have it tattooed on to my body.

As a skin decoration, I had considered both a butterfly and a shamrock. A butterfly is a pretty symbol of nature, of life's ephemeral element, and of change too – it started out as a caterpillar. You could have "Carpe Diem" added as a caption.

But the shamrock is a terrific emblem: a fantastic Irish "brand" and at the same time flexible, inclusive, enduring and changing. It has been in its time spiritual, historic, patriotic, merry and commercial. It's also intellectual – an idea, a concept, translated into an icon.

I heard a tremendously scholarly sermon recently by an Anglican about the theology of the Trinity, and while I like a bit of high-falutin' preaching occasionally, I did think: "St Patrick explained all that much better. He held up the shamrock." Patrick knew the Celtic people loved nature and he used that knowledge. Simple. Brilliant.

If I was going to take the plunge and acquire a tattoo, it would have to be the shamrock, for St Patrick's Day.

And so I took myself to Wildcat Ink, in Stephen's Green Shopping Centre last Saturday. I'd been told, by a man with a beautiful arm tattoo, that Wildcat was the place to go.

You usually make an appointment, but it happened that someone had just cancelled, and a young woman named Rachel said yes, she could do a pretty little shamrock on my arm.

She suggested that, if I hadn't eaten, I should go and get a sandwich first. And then there was a medical list to fill out, answering questions about medication, blood pressure, diabetes and the like.

Then I was taken to the cubicle where three others were also acquiring tattoos and the procedure began. Everything was carefully sterilised and all needles were disposable. Rachel, who had one side of her body extensively tattooed, explained everything chattily to me. She did a preparatory draft of the shamrock design and I chose the inks.

"Does it hurt?" I asked another client, who was having her ankle tattooed. "Yes, a little," she said, smiling. And yes, it does, a little, but in a strangely uplifting way: I believe that certain endorphins are released with the application of the needle (which is attached to an electric power supply). Thus the mild pain is accompanied by a mild pleasure, as with acupuncture.

Tattoos used to be more associated with men – sailors traditionally did it – but Rachel said that many more women now have them. And more older women, too. A grandmother in her mid-70s came in for her first tattoo recently.

It was all over in about half-an-hour. I paid my €60, plus a little extra for the emollient lotion and accessories used for aftercare. A tattoo needs to heal, and you have to look after it for a couple of weeks.

I walked back through Stephen's Green feeling pleased I'd done something that I had wanted to do, and yet that had slightly frightened me. It's important to go on doing what slightly frightens you: to get out of the comfort zone. I had a memento mori moment too. When I die, this mark will still be on me.

And maybe others as well: now that I've started, I might get a second tattoo. It could become addictive.

I didn't mention it to Richard – he's too infirm now to see it – but I did tell my son, who slightly rolled his eyes. "A bit chavvy," he replied. "Still, Mum, at your age, you can do what you like." Quite so!

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